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  5. Studying in Hong Kong expands Wisconsin native’s worldview

Studying in Hong Kong expands Wisconsin native’s worldview

Geoff McConohy at Tiger Leaping Gorge in China.

Traveler, musician, Goldwater scholar and engineer: UW-Madison College of Engineering senior Geoff McConohy does it all.

McConohy, 20, studies engineering physics and hopes ultimately to earn a PhD in materials science. 

In fall 2013, McConohy traveled to Hong Kong through the college International Engineering Studies and Programs office for four months to study abroad. 

McConohy, who doesn’t speak a second language, considered that his experience in Hong Kong would be more desirable to employers than simply studying abroad in a European country.

“I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture,” McConohy says. 

Studying at the University of Hong Kong, McConohy lived in the dorms. 

“The dorms were interesting,” McConohy says. “Everything in Hong Kong is vertical.”

McConohy explains that most of the dorms were at least 16 stories tall. 

A Wisconsin native, McConohy also had to adjust to the hot tropical weather. On top of that, he had to get used to constant construction and noise.

“Hong Kong is very dense,” McConohy says. 

Even with all of the differences, McConohy adjusted easily and was excited by the prospects of traveling around Asia and the great transportation system in Hong Kong. 

While in Hong Kong, McConohy visited both mainland China and Thailand. 

One of his happiest moments while studying abroad was during his trip to mainland China. While there, he and a friend hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world.

“The view was amazing,” McConohy says. His hike left him in awe.

McConohy also had a great experience with the classes he took. His professors came from all over and the material was similar to what he had learned in the College of Engineering. Even better, McConohy took his classes pass-fail which allowed him to really focus on his cultural experience.

According to McConohy, Hong Kong is very international. He made many friends from the United Kingdom and mainland China. 

“You could find food from anywhere in the world in Hong Kong,” McConohy says. 

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak.

While his trip left him with many memories, it also left him with a sense of gratitude.

“My trip gave me an appreciation for where I grew up and a gratefulness for the education system I grew up with,” McConohy says. 

He notes the extreme academic competition for Chinese students that starts at a young age. 

While McConohy had a great time abroad, he also is making a difference on the UW-Madison campus.

He takes part in the UW-Madison Engineering Expo, which attracts elementary, middle and high school students to engineering by showing them the power engineering has to produce innovative products and technology.

Music is also a big part of McConohy’s life. He grew up playing the saxophone and plays in multiple jazz ensembles on campus. 

On top of it all, McConohy was a winner of the 2014 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national award for undergraduates studying the sciences. 

He was one of four UW-Madison students to win the award and among 300 students nationwide. 

Even with such a major accomplishment, McConohy remains humble and says he did not apply for the Goldwater Scholarship for recognition, but rather to help pay for school. 

“I of course was happy to receive the scholarship and I plan to use it to help with student loans,” McConohy says. 

And now, nearly a year after he first arrived in Hong Kong, McConohy says he would love to return. 

“I am very interested in the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China,” McConohy says. “I would like to go back in 20 years to see what has changed.”

McConohy’s time studying abroad has definitely left him with the travel bug. The United Kingdom, India and Ireland are just a few of the places he would like to go.

“I want to visit everywhere,” he says. 

Jasmine Sola